Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4225

Preliminary Estimates of Residence Times and Apparent Ages of Ground Water in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and Water-Quality Data From a Survey of Springs

By M.J. Focazio, L.N. Plummer, J. K. Bohlke, Eurybiades Busenberg, L.J. Bachman, and D.S. Powars


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Knowledge of the residence times of the ground-water systems in Chesapeake Bay watershed helps resource managers anticipate potential delays between implementation of land-management practices and any improve-ments in river and estuary water quality. This report presents preliminary estimates of ground-water residence times and apparent ages of water in the shallow aquifers of the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

A simple reservoir model, published data, and analyses of spring water were used to estimate residence times and apparent ages of ground-water discharge. Ranges of aquifer hydraulic characteristics throughout the Bay watershed were derived from published literature and were used to estimate ground-water residence times on the basis of a simple reservoir model. Simple combinations of rock type and physiographic province were used to delineate hydrogeomorphic regions (HGMR's) for the study area. The HGMR's are used to facilitate organization and display of the data and analyses. Illustrations depicting the relation of aquifer characteristics and associated residence times as a continuum for each HGMR were developed. In this way, the natural variation of aquifer characteristics can be seen graphically by use of data from selected representative studies. Water samples collected in September and November 1996, from 46 springs throughout the watershed were analyzed for chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) to estimate the apparent age of ground water. For comparison purposes, apparent ages of water from springs were calculated assuming piston flow. Additi-onal data are given to estimate apparent ages assuming an exponential distribution of ages in spring discharge. Additionally, results from previous studies of CFC-dating of ground water from other springs and wells in the watershed were compiled. The CFC data, and the data on major ions, nutrients, and nitrogen isotopes in the water collected from the 46 springs are included in this report.

The apparent ages of water discharging from 30 of the 46 springs sampled were less than 20 years, including 5 that were "modern" (0-4 years). Four samples had apparent ages of 22 to 34 years, and two others from thermal springs were 40 years or greater. The remaining ten samples were contaminated with local sources of CFC and could not be dated.

Nitrate concentrations and nitrate delta 15 nitrogen (d 15 N) values in water from many springs are similar to those in shallow ground water beneath fertilized fields, and some values are high enough to indicate a probable source from animal-waste components. The nitrogen data reported here highlight the significance of the springs sampled during this study as pathways for nutrient transport in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Ground-water samples were collected from springs during an unusually high flow period and thus may not be representative of low base-flow conditions. Residence times estimated from plausible ranges of aquifer properties and results of previous age-dating analyses generally corroborate the apparent-age analysis made in the current study and suggests that some residence times could be much longer. The shortest residence times tend to be in the Blue Ridge and northern carbonate areas; however, the data are preliminary and not appropriate for statistical tests of significance or variance. Because the age distributions in the aquifer discharging to the springs are not known, and because the apparent ages of water from the springs are based on various com-binations of CFC criteria, the apparent ages and calculated residence times are compared for illustrative purposes but are considered preliminary until further work is accomplished.





Purpose and scope

Description of study area

Acknowledgment 3

Study methods

Delineation of hydrogeomorphic regions

Chlorofluorocarbon analysis

Nitrogen isotope analysis

Major ion and nutrient analyses

Estimation of residence time by application of a simple reservoir model.

Water-quality data and general nitrogen chemistry of spring water from

selected hydrogeomorphic regions

Preliminary estimates of residence times and apparent ages of ground water in the

Chesapeake Bay watershed

Hydrologic conditions during sampling

Coastal Plain hydrogeomorphic region

Piedmont crystalline hydrogeomorphic region

Piedmont carbonate hydrogeomorphic region

Mesozoic Lowland hydrogeomorphic region

Blue Ridge hydrogeomorphic region

Valley and Ridge siliciclastic hydrogeomorphic region

Valley and Ridge carbonate hydrogeomorphic region

Appalachian Plateau siliciclastic hydrogeomorphic region



Selected references


A. Field parameters of spring water collected in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,

September and November 1996

B. Apparent ages of water collected from springs and ancillary data used for

modeled recharge dates

C. Concentrations of CFC-11, 12, and 113 in all samples

D. Concentrations of major ions in water from springs collected in the

Chesapeake Bay watershed, September and November 1996

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